What Facebook’s IPO means for women

After the Facebook IPO, Sheryl Sandberg will become number two on the list of richest self-made women. She is the COO of Facebook. For those of you not familiar with her career, there’s a nice summary in the New York Times. But the bottom line is that she is really smart (Harvard), a really hard worker (startups, Google, Facebook), a great speaker (here’s a commencement speech) ,and she’s married to a guy who is also making tons of money in startups.

There is nothing, really, that is bad to say about Sandberg. And she works very hard to encourage other women to go as far as she has gone.

The problem is, very few women want to be Sandberg, but there is very little discussion of this.

Sandberg has two young kids. She runs a company that is very public about having “lock-ins” to move fast enough to compete with Google, and they have open hours for kids to come to Facebook offices to say goodnight to their parents, who are working very long hours.

She encourages women to have ambition and “never take their foot off the gas pedal,” but very, very few women would choose to do this after they have kids. Pew Research shows that the majority of women would like to work part-time after they have kids. So it’s hard to tell that demographic that they should work 100-hour weeks at startups instead.

It’s revealing that the New York Times profile of Sandberg shows her surrounded by men who are only marginally involved in raising their kids.

Obama, for instance, is shown kissing her on the cheek. At that moment, presumably, Michelle Obama was with his kids. Because Michelle has been very clear that he is almost never with their kids, and she’s pissed, and she has confessed to screaming at him that she didn’t sign up to be a single mother. In fact, she quit her job so she could manage the family while her husband’s career took off.

Sandberg is also pictured with Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE. I was so struck by his lack of involvement with his kids that I wrote a whole post about it, here. He has a wife at home taking care of his kids.

Sandberg is pictured with Mayor Bloomberg, who is divorced and single, and left raising his daughters largely to his ex-wife.

Sandberg’s husband is not a stay-at-home husband. He has a big career of his own. Meg Whitman also had a husband with a big career, but when she became the very high-profile CEO of eBay, he stepped down to take care of their sons. Sandberg’s husband doesn’t appear to be doing that.

I have a friend who was a direct report to Sandberg. He had nothing but good things to say about her, but when I pressed for how she could possibly be getting this done with young kids, he said there are multiple nannies.

This makes sense. When I had a big job—nothing compared to Sandberg’s—I had two nannies. Because if you travel you have to have around-the-clock coverage.

Sandberg wants to be a role model for women who want big, exciting careers. But here’s the problem: women don’t want to be Sandberg. It’s no coincidence that the number-one woman on the list of self-made millionaires is Oprah. She has no kids and no husband. She’s fascinating, nice, and smart. But few of us would really enjoy her life.

Sandberg and Oprah represent extreme choices in life. The things they give up are not things that most women would want to give up in exchange for the wild career success they could have.

Sandberg’s right when she says that the thing holding women back is women’s ambition. But I don’t see that changing any time soon. Even after the Facebook IPO. I’m afraid that what the Facebook IPO means for women is nothing. Sandberg is not a role model. She’s an aberration.

You can’t have small kids and a startup if you want to see your kids. I wrote about this on TechCrunch and I got skewered for being bad for women and being a downer in general.

But this week Jeff Atwood wrote in Tech Crunch that he’s leaving his startup because it’s impossible to see his kids if he stays. And I don’t see anyone complaining about his declaration.

So probably Sheryl Sandberg is not doing much for women, but I’m pretty sure Jeff Atwood is, because it’s not as hard to say “The startup is too hard on my kids” when men are saying it, too.

138 replies
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  1. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I don’t think it’s hard for women to say “The startup is too hard on my kids”, I think it’s hard for women to say “I’m not really that interested in spending that much time with my kids”.

    Sandberg is an aberration but so is Obama and Jeff Immelt. She’s not unique in any way just rare.

    In Victorian England upperclass women did not “raise” their kids. They always, always had nannies. Have women changed so much since then? No, but our expectations have.

    • D
      D says:

      In Victorian England a woman was either born into wealth or married into it. It was not even remotely plausible that she might become self-made unless her name was Jane Austen or Emily Bronte.

      The incredible expansion of choices available to women has also brought expectations. Ironically, those expectations mostly come from other women. Men either don’t care or are shamed into caring.

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      Umm, only the wealthy women had nannies. The peasants and shopkeepers and butchers’ wives did raise their own kids.

  2. Purple Koolaid
    Purple Koolaid says:

    Perhaps she is part of the reason that Facebook is so hostile to modest pictures of mother’s breastfeeding their babies??

  3. Purple Koolaid
    Purple Koolaid says:

    And thank you for pointing out that most mothers don’t want to work that much. I quit my job when my babes were born because I couldn’t find anyone I trusted enough to raise my kids.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      it’s like it’s bad to say you don’t want to work that much. seriously!? who wants to work themselves to death, not have time to take care of your health, emotional problems and relationships? not me!

      • MM
        MM says:

        Forget about women with kids – WHO wants to work that much?

        I have a career and no kids. A few years ago I realized that I’ve been running full-tilt towards what others told me I “had to do” because I was a smart kid. None of this is anything I’d ever want, and working myself to death is nothing I’d ever want. I refuse to be guilty about this. If a person loves his/her “big exciting career” that is one thing, but there is no need for the rest of us to have to pretend that we do when we do not.

  4. Susan Deluzain Barry
    Susan Deluzain Barry says:

    Victoria is right; women aren’t allowed to say that they don’t want to stay home. I also disagree with you and Sandberg that lack of ambition is the thing that is holding women back, at least more than lack of childcare and healthcare options. I get the self-reliance aspects of the ambition argument, but I think that we have rushed to be a little more “post-feminist” than is appropriate. Women still make a shitty wage compared to men, and “women’s work” – childcare – is not valued. These are not new issues (and I realize I’m not breaking major ground either), and I feel like telling women that they just need to be more ambitious and never take their feet off the gas is insulting.

  5. Sue Miley
    Sue Miley says:

    I agree completely. I actually think it is wrong for someone, man or woman, to have a super demanding job if they have young kids. Both myself and my husband have made career sacrifices, which aren’t really sacrifices (more like choices), for our kids. But at the same time we have also been able to build our careers, do interesting work, and support our family. The level of sacrifice that a FB career, IBM CEO, etc. require is too big of a price.

  6. January
    January says:

    1) Round the clock nannies is unusual in the America unless you’re a celebrity or otherwise very wealthy, but there are many mothers with round the clock live nannies in other parts of the world such as Asia and they do not have to be in high powered jobs to enjoy and appreciate the freedom that round the clock help brings. One of my friends in Asia does have a good job (her husband doesn’t work) and they have two live in help for four children. Another one works part time her husband travels constantly and they have two live-in help and a driver. in parts of Asia one does not have to be as wealthy by far as one would in America to enjoy this. My point here is that there is the perception in America that unless you leave work and are accessible to your children full time or near full time you are a poor mother or undevoted mother. I don’t think that’s so. 2) There are many working single women and married women with children who would consider Oprah’s life, passions, causes and level success to be a great role to follow and quite a pinnacle of success.

    • Elizabeth Briel
      Elizabeth Briel says:

      In China and Hong Kong, hiring a nanny is only a few hundred US$ a month. As a proportion of salary for many local (and expat) businesspeople, it’s very affordable. Most expats I know here have a nanny for their children. It frees the mothers to have a work-life balance we could only dream of in our home countries.

  7. Yuan
    Yuan says:

    What is wrong letting multiple nannies doing the “hard” work of raising your kids, while you do the “fun” part of ACTUALLY loving them?

    • anon
      anon says:

      Because a child needs someone that loves them to be there for the good times AND the hard times. What kind of message do you think that conveys to your child if you only want to have fun with them and are not around when they actually need you? Probably that you don’t care about them as much as you profess. Actions speak louder than words, always.

      • Elizabeth Briel
        Elizabeth Briel says:

        Anon, I agree that children should feel parents are there for them. That doesn’t mean they have to be physically present all the time. I also disagree that one parent should be expected to make the majority of the career sacrifice for children.

        And the right nanny can be an incredibly positive influence in a family….granted, there’s plenty of management involved too.

    • Cherry woodburn
      Cherry woodburn says:

      I think you make a number of good points. A clarification – when Sandburg talks about women keeping their foot on the gas, she’s referring to before they leave for children. She talks about how women start pulling back or not sitting at the table once they just start thinking of having a child. She says keep it on until you have the child and decide what choice you’re going to make in terms of staying home or not.

  8. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Great post. The more public the discussion of balancing career and family the better it is for everyone–dads, moms and the kids.

    It’s important that everyone in society know the trade offs that parents who work 60-80 hours per week are making.

    And it is true that increasing numbers of parents are rejecting that work schedule–but even more would like to work less than they do.

    But I also don’t want to judge Ms. Sandberg. These are her choices, and they may be working for her family (maybe she has the world’s best nannies–she can afford to pay for them). As others have said, maybe her quality time with her kids is as good as many other parents with less demanding jobs–who maybe “only” work 30 or 40 hours per week–because when she gets home she doesn’t need to cook, clean, sort laundry, etc. She can focus on the kids.

    There isn’t a right or wrong choice–necessarily–but it is important that everyone (employers, employees, society) grasp the consequences of each choice and it is important to create an environment in which more people/parents have choices.

  9. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    There is no substitute for time spent. P, you are right in your observation that Jeff Atwood is the one who has done much for women in the decision he made.

    Good post.

  10. Terry Del Percio
    Terry Del Percio says:

    I love that you are talking about Sheryl Sandberg. Her story has always been in the background. It’s about time it came to the forefront. No matter what people’s opinions are about her work schedule and her values….her story is compelling and an important springboard for pressing issues of our time. Thanks for raising up her story.

  11. Marie
    Marie says:

    I went to an all-girls high school and as a straight A student, I was almost always at the bottom of my class ranking because I was too lazy to get the extra points of signing up or AP/college classes.

    Still, I imagined my classmates were going to as Sandberg says, “run the world” and I feared for my own success. But as soon as I got to college, I realized I had very important dreams and ambitions and I turned down a marriage proposal to a man who has his own successful law firm and is running for political office. (He is also married and has a stay-at-home wife who takes care of their children. She has a Master’s degree, but gave up her career to take care of their kids.)

    I might spend my nights husband and child-less, but I have a full-time job in my field and live in the city I always dreamed of living (far away from the awful town I grew up in). I see on Facebook so many of the girls I went to high school with, so many of them with law degrees or ivy league educations, married to men with money and now staying at home. It’s like they educated themselves and even had a career for awhile so they could meet the men they wanted before giving their careers up.

    Maybe it’s also scary to admit that being a housewife has some benefits. It can be easy, you can be lazy…I know there’s a ton of stress and dissatisfaction to be had as well, but many women choose this life for whatever reason. And then a few of us don’t.

    It’s funny. I have a friend who’s a Stay-At-Home-Dad and I think of him as ambition-less in a way I never think of my female friends who stay at home to raise their kids, while their husbands work. I wonder if it’s because it always seems like men have more of a choice to be successful in their careers and women are so afraid, they abandon ship before they even get started.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      i used to think that housewives could be lazy. i guess you can if you want to have a crappy quality of life just like having a mediocre job if you are lazy at it.

      the truth is, some ppl have the personality for it and some don’t.

      why judge each other for the choices everyone makes? it’s dumb! it doesn’t do anything for women to shame those who abandon (permanently or temporarily) their education and careers to raise kids the same way it benefits anyone judging women who remain childless and single in favor of advancing their careers.

      just choose what you want but don’t put anyone on a pedestal without showing the sacrifices they’ve had to make.

    • MM
      MM says:

      I also went to an all girls’ school, got As, went to college, got As, got pushed into a profession because “that is what smart kids do” and see very few of my HS classmates (all upper middle class or richer and educated) still working. I’m the careerist holdout, in a career I don’t like. But I have no desire to be a housewife or have kids – I just wished I’d fought all authority figures to the death and worked in something I actually “wanted to do” in life. Still don’t want to work 60+ hour weeks, though, that’s just a waste of life unless you love your job (and VERY few of us do – for most it’s somewhere on the scale between disappointing marriage and lifetime incarceration with weekends off).

      • Techquestioner
        Techquestioner says:

        Have you ever read MORE magazine? It’s target audience is women over 40, and it’s full of 1st person accounts of 40+ and 50+ women who feel as you do about their careers, or find that their kids have grown up and moved out, and they start asking themselves, “what do I do now?” A lot of them found various kinds of creative answers.

      • Elizabeth Briel
        Elizabeth Briel says:

        Your (enviable to many) position as child-free gives you the freedom to take some great risks with your life. Whatever successes I’ve had as an artist have only come by taking risks. Lots of them.

        You can definitely transition into a career you’re more interested in…Sherry Ott has some good stories here and ideas here on career transitions and travel sabbaticals: http://meetplango.com

  12. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    I am a 49 year old mother of two happy, healthy boys, age 12 & 17. I am president and chief creative officer of an advertising agency. My career is demanding. I travel frequently and my work schedule is intense and draining. I love my job, I love my kids, and I love being a mother. And over the years I have learned that I am a much better mother when I’m not doing it all the time. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg has learned that as well.

  13. Steven Chang
    Steven Chang says:

    It’s a zero-sum game. You give, and take. I only admire those (men or women) who can balance work & family and excel at both… now that takes skills and hard work.

    • Kate Nonymous
      Kate Nonymous says:

      That sounds like Mr. Darcy insisting on a specific and highly limiting definition of a truly accomplished woman. You know, from the part of the book where he was an unlikeable jackass.

  14. Heroine Worshiper
    Heroine Worshiper says:

    The admiration of heroine executives died off after 2000, when the shares being awarded to top executives took off exponentially while the employees who made it happen got nothing. Not sure how serious the lockdown story is, but anyone who actually commits crazy hours to a job that provides no hope of ever making enough to afford a house or even having any money after QE3 is an idiot.

    It’s not about building a foundation for a career either. What they learn at Facebook will be obsolete in 3 months & careers don’t even last long enough to justify that kind of investment in a single technology.

    The bigger question is when Trunk is going to decide writing is too hard on the kids.

  15. Angela Hackett
    Angela Hackett says:

    Absolutely agree with Karelys and Sharon – why is there a need to jump in and judge? This is just more criticism that does not help and one can only imagine comes from feeling pleased and superior with one’s own choices.

    Can we not just let each other make the decisions that are right for them and their families? A ‘seriously’ working mother does not mean a maladjusted child – there are many things that every parent gets wrong when bringing up children,even though most parents are trying to be the best they can.

    Step back and do not judge another women’s choice unless you are personally getting everything perfectly right – and of course if you believe that then you know you are missing the point. The healthy parent (that can raise the healthy child) is the ‘good enough’ parent.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The problem with “let’s not judge” is that it’s bad for women. A discussion with no opinions is not a discussion, and then women do not have a wide ability to consider possibliities.

      Of course there are good choices and bad choices. Of course there are women who are crappy parents and of course there are women who are incompetent adults and could not support themselves if their life depended on it.

      Why can’t we talk about this? If we don’t discuss pros and cons of other peoples’ decisions then how can we make better decisions.

      Instead of refusing to judge people, we should refuse to see things in black and white. So, for example, I can think Sandberg is amazing and still not want to make the sacrifices she has made.

      The gray areas are where the conversation is really useful.


      • Kate Nonymous
        Kate Nonymous says:

        “Of course there are good choices and bad choices. Of course there are women who are crappy parents and of course there are women who are incompetent adults and could not support themselves if their life depended on it.”

        Also true of men. Why limit this to women? And I don’t believe that you want to talk about grey areas when in other posts you have explicitly stated your desire to talk only in black and white, because you think that’s more useful.

      • Shelley Solmes
        Shelley Solmes says:

        Fascinating take on the role of women/men, our work/careers, and a desire to live a balanced life with time for children–let alone ourselves. Sheryl Sandburg is part of rare breed–like an 8-foot basketball player or a concert pianist or a visionary like Terence McKenna–hard work,talent,iron-will and an innate gift at seeing things as they might be and tossing aside the expectations of those who don’t possess these gifts in such high measure. How can we judge when there’s no benchmark in their cases–they invent as they go along.
        I would argue Penelope that the word you use to describe Sandburg as “an aberration” might better be stated as “an anomaly”. She’s remarkable, she’s driven by her gifts and yes, perhaps a role model for focus, indefatigable hard work, and vision. She’s an exceptional woman, doing the best she can. Her life challenges us to think about how we live our own lives and can be taken either as a warning, a wake-up, and yes, even an inspiration to en-flesh our own dreams.
        And bravo to Jeff Atwood–just following his bliss too.
        Thanks Penelope for you columns–always energized after reading them.
        Best wishes for an extraordinary 2012.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I think we can do this and express opinions without judgement or condemning women as bad mothers.

        my mother in law works so much and has worked like that forever. emotionally i think my husband and her sister don’t think much of it. did it have negative repercussions? of course yes but it could’ve been the same if she was with them 24/7.

        i too, think she’s great but i don’t envy her family life situation. i just like the idea of being a female in a high powered position.

        when it comes to my own life i wouldn’t chose the sacrifice/reward situation she’s in. but i don’t think she’s an awful mother.

        let’s discuss options and consequences of choices but do we have to condemn other women for what they chose?

        you’d be annoyed if people condemn you for leaving your 24/7 career to raise kids who are going to leave for their own lives eventually. but you’ll come up with all kinds of research and backing up for why your choice is good.

        i am sure her situation can be backed up too. maybe the nannies are awesome. maybe the kids feel loved. maybe the husband doesn’t need to be with his wife all the time (there are people like that).

        there will be husbands and kids who value more a wife/mother admirable traits and career than having someone who makes them heartshapped pancakes every morning and is laughing with them all the time. also, vice versa nad everything in between.


  16. Reader
    Reader says:

    There’s competition in the working world that does not exist if you’re staying at home raising children. Your looks, your competence and your confidence are always being compared and leveraged. Having degrees and being educated is irrelevant because once women see the alternative of staying home and not having to compete and be compared to other women, they choose staying home. Men are born to compete and it doesn’t crush them if they lose sometimes to other men or if other men are found more attractive. Most women do not want to be surrounded by other women and men they think are better than them. It’s easier on one’s ego being around children. Children won’t fire you if you get too complacent, your looks/weight change, or if you mess up. Kids still love you no matter what you do. You get a free pass. That’s not how it works in the working world.

  17. Helene K
    Helene K says:

    The in box thinking is that women have to give much up to have successfull careers, and that’s the way businesses work now.

    The out of box thinking is that businesses have to change to make more room for family life for their workers and families.

    We treat work as if it’s the meaning of life, when it certainly isn’t for me. I work in a male dominated industry, and I don’t go to work thinking I’m taking one for the women’s equality.

    No, I want the business to adopt to my needs and I’m going to work to make that happen. Not (always) by asking, but taking what I need.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      i think it’s very american to find your life meaning and satisfaccion in work. it’s like it has replaced spirituality for many and this is their religion.

  18. Robin R
    Robin R says:

    One of the most obvious realizations in all this dialog about women and “success”, is that anything is possible.

    Where we have not gotten is to allow everyone their own choice and be okay with it; much of what people write about is whether the choice a woman, or a man, for that matter, has made a choice that is good or bad for their kids, their career, their future.

    The truth is, you make a choice to work 100 hours a week and your husband decides to stay home with the kids. Then a year later he decides to go back to work so you hire a nanny or two and a housekeeper. Then one of you gets sick so you go down to one nanny while staying home to get well. Then the kids are finally off to college and you are both back in the work scene working like crazy and loving it.

    I have made and lost several fortunes, raised two emotionally healthy and happy, engaged kids who are in their mid-twenties, and am on my second husband (the first wouldn’t work OR stay home with the kids) and it has been one heck of a ride. There were some bad times that we all had to figure out, but we each have stronger “characters” for the experiences. I got judged for every choice I made, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

    Rock on, everybody. Only you know what works for you in any given moment, and I guarantee that will change. Give everyone else slack. We all will be okay.

  19. Maui Girl
    Maui Girl says:

    I was a college coach when I had my child and continued to coach until she hit kindergarten. I stepped down to teaching and coaching at the high school level until she reached an age where she was involved in school sports and then retired from coaching (kept teaching).

    While at the college level, she traveled with the team and with me on recruiting trips; we had more time together then any of time during her young life.

    When she was in elementary school, I had a couple of part-time folks helping to bring her to school and pick her up; she was at a lot of practices and every game (home and away). I brought her to every practice, rehearsal, play date, etc.; never missed anything!

    I made the decision to retire from coaching when she hit middle school so that I could be there for her while she began her athletic career. I went to every practice for every sport until her 10th grade year in high school.

    I was still teaching FT, running a business or two, and picking up part-time jobs whenever they came my way. During this time, my career took off and I traveled some to speak around the Country. I did end up missing a few games, which was a bummer, but couldn’t be helped unless I turned down some pretty amazing opportunities. (You see, if you have no career or life to speak of, when they go off to college, you will have absolutely nothing, then what will you do?)

    She is now a college athlete and it is very difficult on me because I am not involved or in attendance for practices and games. I do watch them via streaming video when available (not exactly the same thing though).

    Her senior year of high school I heard many parents (both women and men) talk about that they feel like they missed so much, that they grew up too fast, that they wished they could have spent more time together, etc. I never felt that way, ever.

    The thing is, if you make your family a priority, if you spend the time, both quality and quantity, and if you are actively involved in their lives, you won’t feel the tug that you didn’t spend enough time with them. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything because I was there, I made the time. Sometimes I left work to be with her/watch her/support her and then worked afterwards or when she was sleeping. I did what I had to do to be both her parent and a successful career person.

    She and I are extremely close, even though the miles between home and college are vast; we text, FB, email, chat, and call daily. I am a part of her daily life, although in a different way now, but still, I know what’s happening with her on a daily level, know who she hangs out with, knows about her classes, her crushes, her frustrations, her joys. I support her as I have always done and love her just the same (with all my heart and soul). Do I miss her, every minute of every day, but it does get better or maybe easier with time (accepting that she is in college and not living at home FT).

    We need to be healthy emotionally, physically, and spiritually to be good parents and each person’s needs are different. If you want a career and are forced to stay home, who gets the brunt of the resentment? If you work but want to stay home, who suffers? If we are happy, our children will be happy, it’s that simple. Do what you need to do to secure your health and happiness so that you can share in your child’s health and happiness.

    I have never loved anyone as much as my child and am thankful I was given the opportunity to raise her and be a part of her life!=)

  20. Mandy
    Mandy says:

    I like feministic woman, maybe she is not, but for some women career is very important. I see success in it and power. Why not to be successful if you can, the has children. I respect Sheryl Sandberg

  21. BooBoo
    BooBoo says:

    this women should never have had those kids in the first place. Women who are this successful seem to need the kids on their resume as well. I don’t get it.

  22. Pandora MacLean-Hoover, LICSW
    Pandora MacLean-Hoover, LICSW says:

    Lots of thoughts…
    I enjoyed reading this post, as usual, because it brought focus upon a critical subject.

    Clearly, the “you can be anything, do it all and be happy” memo is still kicking around.

    I appreciated, and read with interest, the comments by women and men. The stories were diverse in experience, perspective and opinion. At 55, I especially appreciated several entries submitted by women approaching my age.

    I could write a detailed account, a scope and squence narrative, about my educational, marital, financial and career journey thusfar. The timing doesn’t feel right. There are already plenty of these from yesterday and today, as early as it is.

    Instead, I am writing to make a request for future consideration and analysis.

    Much like many women my age, who have successfuly launched their children into the adult world, satisfied
    with the report card of a job well done, I long for a spot on Olympic team of wealthy, self-made women.

    I have achieved mastery in my profession and wish to take what I do to a bigger stage.

    At my age, enhanced with a better toolbox from having gone around the block a few times, I have an unprecedented level of confidence.

    Penelope, you write from a place of insight and
    experience extracted from your own life. As I stated, I enjoy and look forward to reading your blog.

    In the future, I am hoping to read and, perhaps, collaborate on an investigative look into the opportunities for women my age.

    Much like the complexities you poignantly depict for women of childbearing years, there is a plethora of opportunity (speckled with challenge, diversity, judgment, and obstacle) for women in the next phase of life.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh I love this comment. It really asks: What about after kids? And it’s a great point. Because I want to compete with the most successful people in business, too. After my kids are older.

      And I have no idea how I will do that.

      But I have been watching how other people have done that: Arianna Huffington is a great model (she started her business career when her daughters were teens) and Meg Whitman is a good model (she downshifted to an easy job at Hasboro while her boys were young and then upshifted to eBay when they were older).

      And there will be tons of men, like Jeff Atwood, who downshift for kids and then get back into the game, and do it with flair, and we’ll learn from them, too. Because men always do it differently, even downshifting for kids.


      • Jim C.
        Jim C. says:

        I suspect that isn’t even possible. I base it on my experience.
        I joined the Air Force in 1969 as a preferable alternative to getting drafted. After four years I went to grad school.
        Once I got out into industry I found myself competing with “snot-nosed kids” a few years younger than me, all of whom had a head start on me. (Remember, the draft pretty much disappeared in 1970.)
        Losing four years cost me quite a bit. I can only guess it would be much harder for a mother who takes fifteen or twenty years off to have and raise children. She would be dealing with a whole other generation who had a big head start on her.

    • Kay Lorraine
      Kay Lorraine says:

      Here’s the big difference, Patricia. Sheryl Sandberg is 42. You are 55. Unfortunately, Ms. Sandberg is in her prime and you are “too experienced,” if you get my drift.

      You have achieved mastery in your profession and wish to take what you do to a bigger stage. Your toolbox is superior. But the Olympic Team is not open to you. The window on that opportunity closed 10 years ago. You’re “too experienced.”

      I feel your pain. I’m even older than you. I achieved terrific things but hit the glass ceiling because I am no longer 35 to 42. No wonder I’ve just applied to law school.

      It’s an unjust world.

  23. Sasha150
    Sasha150 says:

    This post frames the real issue. Most women don’t want to meet the old male standards for success. Most women want a whole new standard that includes successful hands-on parenting. I don’t believe that the world needs more billionaires. I think that the world needs many many more quarter millionaires who work in a profession they are talented in and personally parent their children. That would be radical.

    • Danielle
      Danielle says:

      I absolutely agree with this comment. I don't have children, but would like to one day. I don't see myself having children and not raising them myself, but I plan to keep up with my career. I believe it's all about balance – €“ I realize by choosing to have children, I would have to sacrifice something somewhere else, likely my career. As a society, we need to figure out how you can do both well.

  24. IMA2FOUR7
    IMA2FOUR7 says:

    I am a graduate of one of the Seven Sisters Schools. I remember that some of my fellow college graduates (maybe all of them) understood we were to be career women and mothers. I am 46, by the way. We thought we could do everything and were entitled to get it all.
    Personally I interpreted the message as I could be everything as wife, and mother and not other, so I got married. I was committed to my marriage, and my children.
    Yet, as many women have learned, sometimes everything isn’t all it is cracked up to be. So after 15 years of marriage and 4 children, I found myself divorced and unemployed and back in my home city. Confronted with the cold unfortunate reality of no longer being financially able to remain at home as a single mom of 4 children, then 11, 9, 7, and 5, I tried to become a wage earning administrative assistant. After all, I had 2 BA’s and was bilingual. I failed at that. It is not my skill set.
    I went back to school and got my Masters in elementary ed because I know that I am good at that and I love to teach.
    Those children are now 18, 16, 13, & 11, I am still unable work full time, because they still need to be raised, As much as I would like the substantial reward of working outside the home full time (financial and emotional) I cannot raise my children and be at work at the same time. I am sure I am not unique at this but I can only imagine that better safety nets exist for other women
    I am glad I raised my children that is really the most important work I do, but I still wish I could have it all.

  25. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    I’ve founded or helped start four companies in my career, and I can attest to the fact that it’s hard to balance leading a startup and being a parent/spouse.

    The first two times I started a company, I was single, then married without children. It was a lot of work, but I never felt overworked, even while I was averaging 12-hour days.

    The third time, my son was just an infant, but I was playing a supporting role (Marketing) rather than leading the company as CEO, which made a big difference. The company also did a fantastic job of supporting my needs as a father, including allowing me to bring my son to work when I didn’t want to put him in daycare until he was 15 months old. I doubt I could have been CEO of that company and spent the same amount of time on parenting.

    The fourth time, I returned to the CEO role. Now I had two kids (5 and 3) but since they were beyond the diaper phase, I figured I could handle it. Nonetheless, while I was able to limit hours in the office to a reasonable level, I found myself working until 2 or 3 AM every night to keep up, before being awakened at 6 AM by the kids. Nor did I feel like a good husband, sending my wife to bed alone every night.

    After that, I made a conscious choice to pull back to a supporting role. There is a huge difference between CEO (or effective CEO in Sheryl’s case) and just about any other role. While I’ve met some executives who’ve managed the balance well (Bill George of Medtronic comes to mind), none of them worked in the Valley, where insane hours and workaholism is celebrated like nowhere else.

    One friend was contemplating a move to a hot startup with a reputation for insane hours. I told him, “Do you really want to spend these years, when your children appreciate you the most, working 70 hours a week and commuting to San Francisco? Right now, when you get home, your daughter squeals with joy and runs over to jump into your arms. There will be plenty of time to work when she’s a teenager, and her reaction is, ‘Oh, it’s you,’ before turning back to her phone.”

  26. Helen
    Helen says:

    Hmm,it all comes down to your personality, doesn’t it? I never had the desire to work more than forty hours a week even before I had my son. Even that felt like too much at times. There are so many other things in life to enjoy and I feel the same way now, with my son being almost 16. I understand that some people love their jobs so that it doesn’t seem like work. It has been my experience in a lot of cases, with both men and women, that if one of the spouses is not all that enamoured with their jobs, they will quit to “raise the kids” if affordable. I know there will be exceptions but I personally have not seen anyone give up a job/career they loved to raise kids.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      i found out i don’t care much for money but realize that i need money to make things happen. i don’t care for a prestigious career either. i care for being engaged in life and with others.

      at times, i too feel like 40 hrs per week is too much because it takes me away from the things i want to do. it makes me fear i’m lazy.

      when i have a hard time getting out of bed and getting ready for work i think “how do other women do it!? how can they be excited to spend time at work and i can’t?”

      i think that for some women (and men?) getting ready at crazy hours of the morning to go to work is like getting ready to go to a ball. they are admired, they are envied and wanted and respected and they make money to have the family they want or at least the appearance of the family they want.

      all that makes me yawn. i want to be with my family, i want to spend time kissing my husband and i want to see him unwind with his video game. that’s why it’s so hard to take the plunge into owning our own business. it’s nice to leave the work at the office when the day is over.

  27. Becky
    Becky says:

    I disagree; I think Sheryl Sandburg is a role model, specifically for women who want to follow in her footsteps. Because some women do. Not most women, clearly. Not many women. But for women who would genuinely prefer Sandburg’s life to yours (or mine), she’s an invaluable model for what that looks like.

    Also, if we don’t have any women making Sandburg’s choices, it’s harder to identify the factors that affect how high up the corporate ladder women go. It makes it easier to call it male privilege, or PMS, or some other red herring.

    So while her career may not appear to mean much to the legions of women who want to work part-time after they have children, it actually means a ton. She is walking the road most of us aren’t taking. Even if she mostly serves as an antidote to “maybe I could have had it all” regrets, she still serves.

    Having role models like Sandburg, Oprah, and Condoleezza Rice are so important to women who aren’t super interested in the husband-and-kids model of successful femininity. Because their choices are so rare, women who want to follow in their footsteps can feel pretty, um, abberational. It is nice to know you aren’t the only one.

  28. Help4newmoms
    Help4newmoms says:

    I have to tell you, I am very torn on this issue. I quit my job and raised by kids. Now, 16 years later, I have friends who did the same as I did and their husband’s are out the door, ready to start a new chapter with someone else. Do you know what these women who gave up their careers have left for themselves? Nada! They have the memories of having the, ahem, “privilege of staying at home” and raising their kids. The only problem is that the privilege of staying home does not put a roof over your head or food in your belly.

    The courts don’t favor a stay at home Mom. These Moms get no back-pay for the years they enabled their husband’s to become financially successful and as an added the bonus, the courts say, “oh, by the way, since you have a degree you are expected to make $XX,XXX, immediately, while still taking care of your children because the court can’t mandate that a father take his kids. That it is a nice how-you-do for sacrificing your career, isn’t it?

    While the husbands are off in their new life, not hurt in their income growth in the slightest, the stay at home moms are left to fend for themselves AND their children. Giving up a career is a pretty big risk for a mother if you ask me. So, I say, good for Sandberg, keep doing what are you doing Honey, fathers have been doing it for centuries! Perhaps she is trailblazing a new way for mothers.

    • MKS
      MKS says:

      You just described the point of Ann Crittendon’s The Price of Motherhood – a must read for women before having children, in my opinion.

      Penelope – I think you’re right on with this recent crop of posts on startups and motherhood. My kids are probably about the same ages as yours, and while I try to do it all – write, work, do a startup on the side, be a mother, wife, person in my own right, something has to give. Right now, it’s the writing and the startup, I just can’t do all. Maybe in a few years I can look back and say that my kids turned out ‘all right’, but I’m not willing to take that chance and need to pull back on some of my own dreams for the time being.

      Here’s another thing – a person maybe, maybe, can have it all with one child, but when you have more than that, you just get too stretched.

    • Help4newmoms
      Help4newmoms says:

      Whew, that’s harsh. She is a robot because she wants to be successful in business AND a mother? By that definition all fathers who have successful jobs and leave their kids in the care of another are robots? I’m having trouble with that argument.

      • Lydia
        Lydia says:

        I’m not judging her parenting. I have no idea what goes on in her house, and neither do you. For all I know, she’s a great mom. She’s a robot because she’s programmed to work work work and get money money money and more more more. I work hard myself, but I know there’s “more to life than having everything” (Maurice Sendak). For anyone who wants to be a robot, by all means, emulate her; there’s no better model.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      not everybody has the same strict separation between work and home. Some do not consider work just a means to get money and have more – for some of us work is not just a job but a calling. I doubt it is possible to work 60+ hour weeks with money as the sole motivator (assuming it is not to just keep the food on the table and pay for shelter – that is also motivation to work hard).

      • Help4newmoms
        Help4newmoms says:

        Again, What I am hearing is it is bad if you make a lot of money and what you should rally want is …. fill in the blank, Could it be that her work gives her a sense of fulfillment? Abraham Maslow said that every human being has a need for fulfillment, for self-actualization…

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I think so too – the sense of fullfillment is the ultimate motivator. Money is nice, but I doubt that it is the sole driving force for the intensity of work at that level.

      • Lydia
        Lydia says:

        I don’t see how Facebook is fulfilling. It’s certainly not ethical. That’s the main reason I don’t admire Sandberg. I admire people who think about the ethics of what they’re doing.

  29. fred doe
    fred doe says:

    interesting post. what i think about is, what ivy league college her kids will go to? what will they do with their trust funds? failure,desperation and urgency will never be part of their vocabulary. they should give her a big hug and kiss every mothers day.(they should any way don’t get me wrong)

  30. Sara
    Sara says:

    Penelope – You have spent a lot of time talking about how kids don’t make people happy, according to research, but say here that few people would enjoy Oprah’s childless life. Do you say that just because she’s not married? She’s had such a long term boyfriend that she has a life companion similar to a husband. Anyway, I’d be interested in your clarification.

  31. Bridget
    Bridget says:

    I am enjoying this discussion.

    Here are some other things to think about. I had a job where I worked 90+ hours a week during the time my child was 1-4. I am a single mother. I had excellent family support. I got to do all the fun things with my daughter. When I had a day off I had things to do which not always would be things where a child go go along so even on days off sometimes she had to go to daycare. Then if I had time off which happened to be in the evening, I would have to choose-spend time with my daughter, keep some involvement with the adult world or spend time alone to recharge my batteries. My point is that when you are working those hours it is not just work that takes time away from raising children, it is all of the things that keep a house running and keep a person sane. I remember feeling very depressed when I realized that I didn’t really know my child. For example, I couldn’t help her get unstuck when she became frustrated. You can know what they like to eat, you can know what clothes they think are itchy, you can know they like to sleep in the dark or with the light on but you do not know their essence. I really do think kids get the short end of the stick when they are forced to take a second seat behind a job. understand the point about how commonplace nannies are in other parts of the world. But, they still are not the parent and if you have been around those households you can observe that the relationship between the child and parent is much more formal than the relationship between the child and the Nannie. What does that tell ya?

  32. redrock
    redrock says:

    Sandberg is an impressive woman, that does not mean one has to emulate her life. Admire her, and choose your own path.

  33. redrock
    redrock says:

    … and very few men want to have such a job either. Kids or no kids, it takes a special kind of person, dedication and skills to get to her position. Few, men or women, have it.

    • Help4newmoms
      Help4newmoms says:

      You may be correct that “very few men want to have such a job, either,” however, historically, VERY successful Men need one thing to succeed, a very special wife who is willing to take care of his kids and his home.

  34. .L^
    .L^ says:

    This is the reason that some women choose to not have children. They don’t want others to raise them but also do not want to lose out on a good career. I know women who dropped out of the workforce, decided to wait until the kids were grown to get back in, and now can’t find any job related to their former one. I really admire Sandberg’s ability to have it all. More power to her.

  35. kerry
    kerry says:

    Great post, Penelope! Also loving the comments. Sheryl Sandberg’s “sit at the table” speech at Barnard went viral, bigtime, in my social circles, but didn’t reverberate with me. Your post has helped me better articulate my uneasiness with the message while very much admiring the messenger. Regardless: I love that you two are both bringing this debate into the open, because the one thing I know is that we’re all still figuring it out. It had never occurred to me before to look to men (in addition to other women) as role models in this!!! What a refreshing idea.

  36. Mike Higginbottom
    Mike Higginbottom says:

    Seems to me we should maybe be moving away from criticising women who choose a demanding career and more towards criticising couples who BOTH have a demanding career. As long as there’s one parent around for the majority of the time the kids need them I don’t see why it should matter which one it is.

    Having said that, it’s also true that parents who have chosen a demanding career are also likely to bring a certain passion and vibrancy to their parenting. It ain’t all bad.

  37. January
    January says:

    I think frankly, women comes in all forms and personalities – possible more than men. Some women, like Sandberg, thrive in and love their jobs, They should not be judged for having nannies. Competent, well adjusted women who love their lives whether in a job or not will make good mothers. They may not be able to be there constantly but will have the sound judgement to make good choices for their children. I think what Sandberg is saying that we as women are culturally not encouraged to go for the job and male it not only high paying but as kick- butt interesting and compelling as we can. Finding the perfect job and career is hard, women have always had the option to opt out and I think may do here. I think she is simply saying to women who have this potential, go for that great job that is your passion, and we can do it all if we want.

  38. terri
    terri says:

    I’m going to guess that there are few women that want to be Sandberg, including many of the 190,000 that viewed on Youtube her TED presentation offering advice to career women.

  39. Irina I
    Irina I says:

    Penelope, I’m really glad that you commented on this. For months now I’ve been watching Sandberg and admiring her. Her “don’t leave before you leave” catch phrase is very catchy and inspiring, but is it realistic for most women? I don’t know. Also, I’m single. If I don’t leave before I leave and work long startup hours, I might never find a husband. And that’s something that I don’t want. So I try to choose jobs with somewhat good work-life balance so I can get married someday :-).

    • MM
      MM says:

      And – what if I want to leave? What if I want to work less, or work in a new field? Is that “leaving?” or is only doing “gender traditional” things “leaving?” What if I want to be a relief worker or minister and make $ but do something good – is that the ever-scorned “leaving?” Isn’t SS judging our choices a bit in that advice?

  40. Elizabeth S.
    Elizabeth S. says:

    One of the problems I see with more women not joining Sandberg’s ranks: it’s not a zero-sum game.

    If a mother decides to spend more time at work and away from her child, she knows that time is gone. She can never get it back. But she also knows all those thousands of hours spent at work aren’t guaranteed to make her Sanderbergesque.

    So when faced with that choice of working rather than spending critical time with the family in order to maybe, possibly (likely not) get anywhere near a place like Sheryl Sandberg – it doesn’t seem like such a good hand to play.

    • MM
      MM says:

      “But she also knows all those thousands of hours spent at work aren’t guaranteed to make her Sanderbergesque.”

      BINGO. Work in the wrong field, a field you don’t love, a field about to tank, etc. or just be subject to luck, global forces and market trends and your 100 hour weeks might get you nowhere. Otherwise known as the same life and career risk we all live with.

      • Lydia
        Lydia says:

        Yep, I agree, you have to get lucky!

        Not only that, but it’s also worth noting that Sandberg isn’t “self-made.” She grew up in a wealthy family, giving her a big leg up in life that a lot of us regular folk don’t have, and that helped her get ahead.

  41. JE
    JE says:

    I think what it boils down to is that the workplace as a whole is going to have to adjust to both women and men who wish to see their children grow up and be an active part of their lives. I see this already in more workplaces that are offering flexible work schedules so employees aren’t locked into just having to work 8 a.m.-5 p.m. There’s getting to be more room for adjustment, but more of those in the top positions are going to have to want these things for themselves so they implement these policies in their workplaces. Also as mentioned by others, you can work hours and hours and it’s still no guarantee you’ll climb to the top ranks. There aren’t certainties anymore that working long hours or staying loyal to a workplace for years is going to pay off in the end. Your children on the other hand, you don’t get a second chance to be there for those childhood years. What happens if you put in years and long hours in at work and often don’t get to do things like attend your child’s class parties thinking in the end it will be worth it, but then you get laid off? You don’t get that time with your child back and it turns out all those long hours and years didn’t amount to more success. Plus the cost of child care is so expensive that unless you’re making enough money to cover it and have some left over to contribute to the household, then why stay working if your entire check is going to child care and not anything else? For example my husband and I are newlyweds and don’t have children yet, but my husband makes more than double what I do. I stay at my job because I enjoy what I do and like my coworkers, but if we have a child I’m staying home because my check would be eaten up with childcare costs. Our bills and other expenses would still be coming from my husband’s check so what’s the point in me working if essentially I’d just be working to pay for childcare? Still I say do what’s best for you and what works for you and your family. Some people thrive on the energy it takes to do something like work in startups. I’m not one of those people, even when I was single.

  42. Lou
    Lou says:

    Women with children can be successful in the world of start ups.. and be successful mother, wives and friends…

    It is not about measuring women against the ONLY model of what a successful entrepreneur looks like… the standard 32 year old white male…. (or in the instance of Stanberg… what ONE successful female in this industry looks like)… it is about opening up the minds of the industry to realise that success can look different…

    You do not have to work 100 hours, nor sell your soul.. or your children for that fact, to be successful… it IS about surrounding yourself with a kick ass team… knowing what you are good at and sticking to that rather than trying to micro-manage every aspect of the business… its about trusting the people you bring on board to execute your vision…

    Now If you’ll excuse me – I have a Yoga class to get to and a 6 year old birthday party to shop for :)

  43. KM
    KM says:

    Generally not a huge fan of what i’ve read thus far on your blog insofar is it seems to be a bit self-riteous and all-knowing. I’m not sure who pays you for coaching advice or who follows u. This was sent to me from an acquaintance who posted it on twitter. I have a few things to say:
    1-I find it offensive that you would purport to say what “most women” want – I daresay that people who read your blog do not fall into the “most women” category
    2-Maybe I didn’t read thru enough comments but from what I saw in your post + most comments I read no one is recognizing the fact that something like 70-80% of families in the US (and many other countries) have 2 working parents. That is a financial reality for most people.
    3-The real issue here, for me, is not that women should or shouldn’t stay with their kids – I dont really care what they choose (if they have that luxury) – the sticking point is that many parents do not seem to feel comfortable leaving their kids in the hands of caregivers which to me speaks to how our society, as a whole, has not found a good solution to day care for working parents.
    4-I work in finance in an extremely interesting field. In order for me to succeed I have to put it long hours – but they are not insane hours. And guess what? i’ve decided to put off kids for a while. and if i put in the hard work now, do well, make a name for myself, become INVALUABLE then i am confident that I will be able to ask the bank to give me some flexibility in terms of working from home sometimes (which I do now fairly frequently PRE-children)

    Overall, and I hate to sound harsh, I just think your know-it-all tone and assumption that women who are successful lead these solitary sad lives sounds like nothing more than an excuse for yourself who is perhaps not entirely happy w/your decision to live on a farm. Although perhaps you were never going to “make it” in a traditional hard-core career setting. I dont know, you just sound pretty out of touch to me. I just really can’t stand it when women make such sexist comments about other women – you konw we get enough shit in life w/o having each other pointing fingers. Sounds to me like many of your readers are upper middle class (not high class, but def not destitute either) white not-so-ambitious mommies. maybe you need some other opinions. On that note, I, like Lou above am off to a gym class then to cook dinner w/my future sister in law. And no, I’m not some sad sap workaholic – i have a ton of friends, great family relationships and have been married for over 4 years to a man who I have been with for nearly 10 who is also a hard-working ambitious person who i am helping put thru an MBA at an ivy league institution.

  44. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    I had a child in my mid-30’s and was in the middle of one of my careers–I have had four very different professional incarnations (typical of what Penelope says). It never occurred to me to stop working, we figured it out. Neither my husband or me have taken a job more than 20 minutes from our son’s school and we of course turn down big opportunities farther away. We only had the one kid, which makes it a lot easier. A choice as well. And, what I am always perplexed by, are the moms in my son’s school with law degrees and MBAs who pretty much just taxi their kids from place to place for a living. I have hired my friend’s college-age son to pick up my son and take to sports or whatever after school. Honestly, hanging around a soccer field is not my thing. We all have to make our choices and be comfortable with them. They with theirs and me with mine. And I agree with Penelope… Sandberg is a an aberration. Not only for women, but she is the freaking COO of FB for God’s sake. You go girl.

  45. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    changing any time soon. Even after the Facebook IPO. I'm afraid that what the Facebook IPO means for women is nothing. Sandberg is not a role model. She's an aberration.”

    Yes, she is an aberration, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a role model. And the Facebook IPO doesn’t mean “nothing” for women. It’s another notch in our belts. Another arrow in our quiver. That’s not “nothing”…it’s everthing. Can we please stop talking about this?

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